Monday, January 25, 2010

Are Kids Getting Enough Exercise?

Many thanks to Joanna Dolgoff, MD, ( for this guest post:

The Age of Computers and Television has also become the Age of the Couch Potato. Instead of running outside to play, our kids choose to sit down and text. This decrease in activity level is contributing to the current child obesity epidemic. One third of all children in the United States are overweight or obese and at risk for medical illness because of their weight. Is your child part of that group? If so, insufficient exercise could be partly to blame.

A new study from the British Heart Foundation revealed that the vast majority of parents overestimate the amount of time their kids exercise. According to this study, seven out of ten parents think their kids get enough exercise but only one in ten actually meets current recommendations. Most parents don’t even know what the current recommendations are! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of exercise almost every day of the week. Few children get even half that amount.

And many people confuse “physical activity” with “exercise”. True exercise requires an increase in heart rate and the inability to speak in full sentences. Your child is not working hard enough if she can carry on a conversation while she is moving. The next time your child is exercising, try this “talk test”. Ask her a question and see how she answers it. If she responds fluidly without any huffing and puffing, ask her to turn the intensity of her exercise up a notch. You can be sure your child is really exercising is she takes deep breaths between words.

Parents often believe that their kids are exercising whenever they play a sport. Yet many sports do not get a child’s heart rate up enough to constitute true exercise. Consider baseball; a child playing baseball spends most of his time sitting on the bench waiting to bat or standing in the field waiting for the ball. I always tell my patients that baseball isn’t exercise! Of course, a baseball practice that includes running drills is an exception and would be considered real exercise.

When parents ask me if a particular sport is considered exercise, I tell them that it depends. When my daughter first started to play soccer, she would stand on the sideline and watch the other kids run with the ball. If the ball would happen to come to her, she would kick it. Clearly, this was not exercise. But fast-forward two years later and she is a soccer animal! She runs up and down the field, trying to get the ball and score. Now she is exercising!

How can you ensure that your child is getting enough exercise? I recommend scheduling your child’s exercise just as you schedule a doctor’s appointment. Decide in advance when your child has the time to exercise and put it on the calendar. The key is to keep these appointments. Being tired or not in the mood does not constitute a reason to skip an exercise session. Would you skip a doctor’s appointment for those reasons? Of course not! Treat your exercise sessions the same way.

Remember, 70% of parents incorrectly believe their kids are getting enough exercise. Do not be part of that group! Examine your child’s exercise routine with an unbiased eye and make sure that she is getting the exercise she needs.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Life in Balance

Happy New Year! January is National Life in Balance Month, and what better month to take stock of our lives than January? We are at the beginning of a new year and a new decade. Taking stock is different from making a New Year’s Resolution. New Year’s Resolutions always feel like things that you make yourself do because you should. The force – “make yourself” – and the “should” are set ups for sabotage. It’s difficult to feel encouraged or inspired whenever force is a part of the equation. Taking stock, on the other hand, is reflection. It is spending time in honor of your life.

Check the scales of your life. Are they level and in balance? Level and balanced doesn’t mean excitement is missing. It means that you are nurturing or feeding all of the parts of who you are in the amounts that suit you best. Is your body nourished or is it neglected? Are you enjoying your social self, connecting with friends and family? Are you fully expressing yourself emotionally? Are you growing spiritually? Are you feeling purposeful in your work life? Being out of balance is spending too much time on one aspect of your life at the expense of others. Being in balance is nourishing all of you.

Robert Fulghum, author of All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, advised that we live a balanced life. He suggested that we “learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” He also paired this advice with “warm cookies and milk are good for you” and “take a nap every afternoon.” All good!

One of the biggest ways to tip the scales out of balance is multi-tasking. Long thought to be the way towards ├╝ber productivity, studies now show multi-tasking actually hinders productivity and learning. When Robert advised us to take naps, sing, dance, paint, and work, he did not advise that we do them all at the same time. Sing a little, then paint a little, then work a little, then go for that afternoon nap!

In this New Year, take stock, honor all of you and regain balance one step at a time. Then teach your children to do the same so that they honor all aspects of who they are.